Newsworthy: When an Executor Thinks the Testator is Insane

From the New York Post:

Sure, the famously eccentric copper heiress Huguette Clark chose to live the last 20 years of her life in an unadorned hospital room instead of her three art-filled mansions, and yes she was more interested in her doll collection than her peers — but was she crazy?

That’s the legal stance he executors of her estate are now taking as they seek the return of $105 million in gifts the wealthy recluse gave to doctors and employees in her last decades of life.

After three years of litigation, it’s the first time the executors have used the insanity argument.

The move is “a measure of their desperation,” Lawrence Fox, an attorney for Beth Israel Hospital, said in recent court papers.

Executors would have to prove that she did not have a single “lucid episode” from age 84 until she died in 2011 — even though she closely tracked the 2000 Bush vs. Gore election recount and the stock market, Fox argues.

This current court fight comes eight months after Clark’s 20 distant relatives won a $34.5 million settlement in a separate will contest. Other payouts in that previous estate battle include $85 million to a California arts foundation established in the heiress’ memory, $35 million to the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, DC, and a whopping $24.5 million in legal fees.

Now the executors, on behalf of the family, are going after over $100 million that Clark gave away during her lifetime.

The executors’ attorney, John Morken, criticized Fox and the other defendants for seizing on the salacious term “insane.”

He said the legal phrase “insanity toll” is outdated and today simply means he has to show that Clark was “incapacitated.”

In support of his argument Morken describes the frightful scene playing out in Clark’s Fifth Avenue apartment before she was admitted to Beth Israel in 1991.

She “was an eccentric recluse living in chaos and in an old, soiled bathrobe, and weighed 75 pounds,” Morken writes in court papers.

Her doctors still described Clark as “extremely frightened” of the outside world and lacking any “concept of money.”

The hospital’s attorney counters that the heiress had “remarkable mental faculties” and was in “full control of her affairs.”

The parties are awaiting a decision on the insanity question from a Manhattan Surrogate’s judge.

Clark was the youngest daughter of copper king, Sen. William A. Clark. Director Ryan Murphy, of the TV series “Glee” and the film adaptation of “Eat Pray Love,” is working on a movie about Clark’s life, as portrayed by journalist Bill Dedman in the book “Empty Mansions.”

What we can learn from this article: You want to make sure that you are as clear as possible when you are drafting your Will documents in New Jersey or New York.  Similarly, while making charitable gifts during your lifetime, it would be a good idea to make sure you are keeping good records of your gifts, documenting your reasoning.  This won’t guarantee that your Will and charitable gifts will be upheld, but it will add ammunition to anyone who wants to uphold your intentions.  You don’t want to suffer the fate of Huguette Clark’s Will and Estate.

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